Can TV Ads Really Sell Anything? Ask Broccoli.

A Canadian TV campaign from January touted the miracle health benefits broccoli has to offer.

The company behind the campaign, however, might surprise you. Was it a local grocery store chain? A group of farmers? No and no. The Television Bureau of Canada made the big revelation in September that it created the five-week campaign in an effort to prove that TV ads can sell anything. 

And they have the metrics to prove it. The campaign, created by john st., Toronto, increased broccoli sales by 8% compared to store sales from last year. In addition, a whopping 188,574 pounds of broccoli made its way into Canadians' grocery carts during the campaign.  

The "Miracle Food" TV campaign consisted of three TV spots, each starring an obsessive broccoli-lover as the veggie's spokesman.  

One TV spot, "Parachute," begins with a skydiver surviving a fall after his parachute fails. "It's a miracle," proclaim fellow skydivers.  One rogue extreme sports enthusiast, however, doesn't believe his feat was miraculous. He believes broccoli, packed with 12 vitamins and minerals, is a bigger miracle. See it here.  

"Octuplets" is set in "Little House on the Prairie" days, showing a wife giving birth to eight babies, at home, sans midwife or modern-day meds. The wife believes it's a miracle. The creepy broccoli-lover from "Parachute" sits at a nearby table, with a different opinion. Babies are just babies, but broccoli is a real miracle, he says as he strokes his veggie stalks. Watch it here.

A man and his dog survive a tornado by taking cover in a "Chimney." Too bad it doesn't rate high in sketchy broccoli-loving man's book. See it here.

"The TVB wasn't setting out to prove that television should be the only medium on every media plan, but they did want to debunk many of the rumors plaguing the medium," said  Chris Hirsch, associate creative director/copywriter at john st. "And while we all know television is generally just one ingredient in the media plan, we think this experiment firmly plants television as an essential option for advertisers."

Each TV spot directs viewers to the faux Web site,, where users can read the history of broccoli, view four broccoli recipes and read articles touting broccoli's nutritional benefits.

The reveal print ad, seen here, is copy-heavy, describing TVB's January experiment with broccoli. "They say the camera adds 10 pounds. In our case it added 188,574," reads lead copy.

Hirsch explained why broccoli, of all things, was selected as the "tough sell." Not that I'm complaining, I love broccoli.  

"When your target is the advertising and media industry itself, we knew we couldn't just tell people that TV works. We needed to prove it, with a product that was already a tough sell to begin with. So we chose broccoli. We figured while we're at it, why not choose a product that may make a few people a little healthier along the way." 

The biggest challenge of the campaign was keeping the secret under wraps.  

"Productions such as this often involve close to a hundred people, so keeping the lid on the fact that it was a fake campaign for the duration of the campaign was definitely the hardest part. We just wanted to prove that the rumors of TV's death have been greatly exaggerated," concluded Hirsch.

1 comment about "Can TV Ads Really Sell Anything? Ask Broccoli.".
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  1. Marti Barletta from The TrendSight Group, December 16, 2010 at 2:43 p.m.

    LOVE this! Contrary to popular - uninformed, apparently - opinion in most of the marketing world, TV is very alive and kickin'. Across the past 5 years, while Web time has increased 121% (a large part of which is work, not personal), Americans' TV usage is stable at around 5 hours a DAY ( True, A18-34 tend to watch more like 4 hours, while PirimeTimers (45-64) watch about 6 hours. But that's all GOOD, because PrimeTimers not only HAVE more money than singles and early-family couples, but they SPEND a lot more - 2.5X per person.

    Also, women 25+ watch more TV than men, which is also good, because women are the ones who decide what to devote all that spending to. In fact, 80% of consumer dollars are spent by women, and at least 50% of business dollars as well.

    Kudos to the Canadians for their clear-headed attempt to cure marketers of their Shiny New Object syndrome. Social media has demonstrated that it can be a useful marketing tool, on the order of event marketing or sampling or word of mouth programs, but it is dangerously delusional to believe the hyped up headlines that "mass media is dead." As professionals, we need to see enough of the big picture to put our money where our market is - and 5 hours a day, that's sitting on the sofa in front of the TV set.

    Marti Barletta
    Author, Marketing to Women; and PrimeTime Women. Co-author, with Tom Peters, of Trends.

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